At pairs, frequency not size of results matters: frequent small wins outweigh the odd huge loss “one bad board”.
So far, 1NT shows 12-14 with a shape of 5332, 4432, 4333—it may include a 5CM. The recommended system of responses is Stayman and Transfers. In the following it is always E who opens “1NT”. 1NT is a limit bid and E has described the important features of his hand pretty closely. W, whose hand is not yet described at all (unless previously passed) is in charge and leads the auction.
Responding to 1NT
First a warning: if S makes any bid, Stayman and transfer sequences do NOT apply. South’s intervention gives W a few extra options which we will address later, in competitive bidding, but W cannot use any of the structure which follows.
After the “1NT” bid, W forms a view on the target denomination and level. It is scarcely possible to judge this accurately without some artifice. There are not rigid boundaries, it’s a spectrum, but useful labels are:
- slam possibilities
- game in the best denomination
- escape to a safer contract.
While W has an idea of the destination level, his first bid does not reveal this: every bid he makes is (at least) a one-round force. The recommended structure is:
- “Pass” when it looks as though nothing is likely to score higher than an NT partial or when you have no escape (perhaps with a weak C-dominated hand)
- “2C” Stayman promising (with one exception) at least one 4CM.
- “2D” transfer to H promising 5+ H of any quality
- “2S” transfer to S promising 5+ S of any quality
- “2S” transfer to C promising 5+ C
- “2NT” transfer to D promising 5+ D
When W makes any of these bids, E announces “Stayman” or “Transfer to H/S/C/D” as appropriate. If E (having nodded off) fails to make the announcement, ethically you must behave throughout the auction as if he had and, if you win the auction, explain the meaning to NS before the opening lead is faced. W bids of 3 or above are left till later.
Playing in Orpington, you will often find players who want to use “2S” to show a marginal invitation (11 points) and “2NT” to show a stronger invitation (12 points) to the NT game. Robson’s advice, obvious really, is that as you never want to play 2NT—riskier than 1NT but worth no more, you don’t need several ways to get there. These responses, saying almost nothing about the W hand, leave E with a guess. Guesses are bad. Try and talk your partner out of using these bids this way. Even if your partner plays them so, rather than use them yourself, leave the bids idle and sacrifice the minor suit transfers, perhaps missing the occasional minor suit slam (better that than a confused partner). With the recommended structure you lose nothing: you can still reach 2NT if you must but with partner in a better position to judge game prospects.
If you happen upon one of the few who don’t play transfers and you have the time, try and persuade them. A W hand like this where the best contract is not obvious might help: S=Q9732, H= 65, D=AK3, C=Q73. To show the major, the strength and the balanced nature needs more than one bid. And, on a different hand, a “2D” bid (which for non-transfer players announces a weak hand with D facing a weak NT) is just an open invitation to the opposition. Transfers greatly improve expressiveness; the only drawback is that they do give a hook for astute opponents to compete.
The “2C” Stayman bid is forcing: E must respond unless N intervenes (we’ll address later how to handle that).
Responses to Stayman, with N silent, are:
- “2D” E has neither major;
- “2H” E has 4H and maybe 4S;
- “2S” E has 4S and not 4H
Only start Stayman if you know what to do after any response. W might have a weak hand with at least 4 D and 3-card tolerance H and S intending to pass whatever E says, occasionally landing in a 4-2 D misfit but more often escaping 1NT to a safer haven. Remember, at pairs it’s frequency of good outcomes that matters.
Unless holding this weak pass-anything hand, W will have 11+ HCP or good shape. If E bids the major W doesn’t have, W can bid “2NT” showing a balanced invitational hand and the other major. E, knowing something of the W hand beyond mere points has an improved view of the final contract which could include game in S. Exercise: why Spades?
Other likely bids by W include an invitational single raise, a jump to game in NT or East’s major—E can correct “3NT” to “4S”. Exercise: what would a new suit by W mean?
After a red-suit transfer, E must bid “M” (where this means the major indicated by W), no matter how poor his fit (E must have at least 2). Most Easts simply accept the transfer irrespective of their own holding. But I recommend that with a fit, E uses a richer vocabulary. E can “bounce” a level eg “1NT” “2H” “3S”with a fit (quite safe even without agreement and strongly recommended). Though E says nothing new about his range, W is in a better position to judge game prospects and a slam try is facilitated with the suit known. More commonly, W has a weak hand, now the opposition will find it harder to compete.
This paragraph is here for completeness. Please skip it rather than let it worry you! These sequences are recommended only for regular partners. Go to the next paragraph. Now. OK, but don’t blame me. East’s bid of any suit but the one W wanted, breaking the transfer, identifies a useless doubleton in a maximum hand with a fit for the W suit. If breaking is agreed, a break to “2NT” shows a maximum E hand with a fit, stronger than a direct bounce to “3H” but no useless doubleton. As a general principle, slower sequences show more strength than fast arrivals. It is left as an exercise for partners to agree the rest of a transfer break auction.
After E has transferred, W may pass with the escape hand or indeed any hand short of an invitation. A W bid of “2NT” (non-forcing) now shows a game invitation hand with the 5CM. E can as appropriate: “Pass”; bid “3M” (non-forcing but showing at least 3 of the M); bid “3NT”; or bid “4M”. W can raise “3M” (NF) to show a sixth card or “4M” to sign off with the NT hand concealed. A new suit by W shows a suit (probably only 4 cards long) and forcing to at least 3NT. E proceeds in the knowledge of West’s strong shapely hand: a suit bid by E is unlikely to be to play and is either an NT stop or a control in case W has a slam in mind. “3NT” by E shows exactly 2 in the M: doesn’t it.
Less common in Orpington than red-suit transfers, in the recommended structure West’s immediate bid over 1NT of “2S” promises C, “2NT” promises D. Simple acceptance by E shows little enthusiasm for m, but with Qxx or better, show more encouragement. I recommend direct acceptance (eg “1NT” “2S” “3C”) is weaker, indirect (eg “1NT” “2S” “2NT”) is keener (same fast arrival principle as before). You can agree the opposite (ask Roy). This structure allows minor slams to be explored below the all important level of 3NT. After the enthusiastic transfer acceptance, a simple correction by W is sign-off. After either response, a new suit by W is a biddable suit (fair 4-card) forcing to 3NT.